SAN LEANDRO MAYOR CALLS FOR MORE CUTS TO STAFF; CRITICIZES POLICE
By Steven Tavares
“Are there certain jobs and positions that can be eliminated and consolidated in a way that we could still provide services that we do now?” asked Cassidy during Monday’s work session on next year’s fiscal budget.
“In my State of the City speech , part of it, as it was originally written, was to praise the work of the police department and they certainly deserve praise in reducing the total of crime by 25 percent, however, burglaries are up,” said Cassidy. “If you go to talk to people in the neighborhoods people won’t tell you that they feel a lot safer in San Leadnro because the burglaries uniquely effect them and they hear about, so we can say, ‘you should feel safer, crime is down,’ but that’s not their experience. So, I think just for us to be honest as policymakers in our presentations, we need to give both sides of the story sometimes. I think if there is other sides of the story, we need to hear that too because the underlining message we’re getting here is that we’ve been cut to the bone, don’t look to any further cuts to staff, preserve the status quo.”
The mayor’s comments on police, which some in law enforcement took as a slight, mirror past statement’s by Cassidy questioning its performance while seeking ways to cut fat from the department’s operating budget. Public safety routinely garners over two-thirds of the city budget. The rising tensions between the department, its union and Cassidy led Sgt. Mike Sobek, president of the San Leandro police officers association to call then-mayoral candidate last fall, “no friend of the POA.”
Sources tell The Citizen, Cassidy’s surrogates have recently made inquiries into the police department budget in an attempt to make cuts. A few associated with local city politics view Cassidy’s comments Monday night as evidence of the mayor’s inability to build coalitions. Cassidy and the new San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli were sworn-in within days of each other last January, but love between the mayor’s and chief’s office may be in serious jeopardy.
It is believed part of Cassidy’s ambivalence towards the police department comes from community leader Tim Holmes, who is known by many to have the new mayor’s ear. He also ran Cassidy's mayoral campaign last fall. The San Leandro businessman has tussled with the department in the past while claiming officers were instructed to boycott his coffee shop and failing to patrol the areas surrounding his business during an elementary school function near Bancroft Avenue last year. Through a covert Facebook gossip page, Holmes has also charged the new police chief with coercing officers to testify medical marijuana dispensaries would increase crime in San Leandro.
Cassidy attempted to dig up a familiar stereotype of the complacent government worker when he criticized a staff report assigning blame for low response times on a loss of employees. In the past two years, nearly 40 percent of city staff has been eliminated to facilitate budget deficits up to $7 million. Although, preliminary multi-million dollar budget shortfalls in nearby Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland and Fremont are expected, Cassidy said next year’s budget will be balanced for the next two years. Nevertheless, Cassidy again exuded a lack in trust in city staff that has been the hallmark of his short time in office.
“Everything in that [report] was, ‘well, we’ve lost staff and the response time was down.’ It’s that mantra being repeated and repeated,” said Cassidy. “There’s nothing here that says we’ve lost, but actually we thought of a new program or we found a better way of doing it and actually were able to provide a better service.”
During a council meeting in February, Cassidy took a similar tone against members of the transportation department when he and Councilwoman Pauline Cutter repeatedly questioned its determination for splitting a portion of East 14th Street into two lanes. Cutter, who received union support in her campaign for the council seat last November, also questioned whether city employees were running their departments efficiently.
The tough talk from the council newest members has added a new wrinkle of worry to many city employees who, like most workers are feeling the pinch of a the Great Recession. Further increasing the rising dysfunction at City Hall is the view Cassidy, who is a full-time attorney in San Francisco is rarely at the mayor’s office and largely unavailable to constituents with many complaining of unreturned phone calls and emails. To facilitate his busy schedule, many committee meetings have had drastic changes in schedule. The city’s finance committee meeting, which has met more regularly than under the previous mayor, now begins at 8:15 a.m.